Nashville and Memphis were 2 cities that I proudly checked off my bucket list this week. While not as spectacular as a national park, they both brought some intriguing things to the table.
Nashville had so much live music. In some venues, you could hear 3 different bands depending on which floor you were on. During my second night, I stumbled upon an eclectic neighborhood where the locals hang out. The tunes were good and the conversations were great.
I couldn’t go to Elvis’ homeland and not see Graceland. Apparently there’s a big celebration this week in August to commemorate his death. I saw 7-year-olds dressed up like the King himself. Fun fact: Elvis had 14 TVs in his home.
The Wild Cave tour in Mammoth Caves was extraordinary! To start off, I had to gear up in a full-body coverall suit, bandanna, helmet, headlamp, gloves, and knee pads. I knew from the get-go that I would be embarking on an epic mission. For the next 6 hours, I crawled, squeezed, and hiked my way through 5 miles of underground territory. Although I never had any moments of claustrophobia, it was pretty surreal to contemplate the fact that I was over 300 feet below the surface.
Not only did I learn a lot about the history of the cave (at one point there was a tuberculosis hospital down there), but I was able to appreciate the beauty of its many formations.
It took 2 showers to get all the dust off my body.
A couple noteworthy things happened during my last 24 hours in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
First of all, I met Trevor. He is only 2 parks away from visiting every single national park. That’s incredible! I was able to ask him a ton of questions about his journey thus far and gleam some wisdom.
Secondly, I volunteered at the Tremont Institute, an environmental education center located within the Smokies. Throughout the summer, they have regular citizens (such as myself) show up in an attempts to monitor and assess bird populations. The staff and interns are incredibly passionate about their work. It was refreshing to chit chat with people who dedicate their lives to studying the ecology of a national park.
Cades Cove is a pretty neat little place. Long before the Smokies were established as a national park, settlers moved into the valley and created homesteads. Life was difficult, but these folks sure knew how to work hard, build community, and enjoy life in the mountains. Their daily routines revolved around feeding their families, heeding their religion, and, of course, keeping those moonshine stills running. Despite living miles apart and lacking good roads, the Cades Coves settlers made it a priority to get together for good ol’ fashioned parties (typically involving some type of work, mind you).
Life was simpler back then, but I’d still miss WiFi.
It’s been a little over a month since I said goodbye to “normal” civilization, packed up a lifetime supply of Clif Bars, and moved permanently into a home that is 30 square feet. I can’t help but reflect back on how I’ve adapted to a completely different lifestyle. Has it been as fun as a barrel of monkeys? You bet! Have I had moments of wondering whether or not I was crazy for attempting such an endeavor? Yes – though they’ve been few and far between.
Every day is different. I’ve put in my fair share of “touristy” investments. Dollywood was by far the cleanest and prettiest amusement park I’ve ever been to. Ruby Falls made me wish that I was part of the original team that explored the cavern and found a 145 foot underground waterfall. What I find truly exciting, however, is the genuine honest-to-goodness outdoor, full immersion nature moments. This is why I decided to take my trip. This is when my happiness levels peak through the roof. This is what I wish all of my dear friends and readers could experience in real-time with me.
To those of you rooting me on at home: thanks for the packages, love, and well-wishes.
To those of you whom I’ve encountered along the way: thank you for the good conversation breaking up the long periods of solitude.
And to those of you whom I’ve never met: I appreciate your interest and attention.